Natural Foods Merchandiser

First time fever: New exhibitors enliven Expo

In a maturing industry, you might think it would be harder for new start-ups to break into the market. But based on my conversations with some of the more than 400 first-timers here at Expo West, there’s still room for innovation, and passion for the products they represent.

In many cases, new exhibitors are astounded by the number of people at the show. “There are so many inspiring people here,” said Tara Vicente (right) of Booda Organics, a new personal care company from Golden, Colo. “I’ve met more amazing people here in the last three days than I usually do in 10 years of existence. We’re not here just to sell product, but spread love and awareness.”

Yes, that’s the language of the new convert, but that level of enthusiasm is precisely what new industry members bring to the table. They’re passionate about their products and emerging market possibilities, and they seem more likely than larger, established manufacturers to take chances and come up with unusual products. Some may miss the mark, but others will become the trends of the future.

Industry consolidation and the presence of established companies doesn’t seem to phase these start-ups. “I’d describe this industry as the wild west,” said Scott Shoemate, owner of Ilumina Organics, a personal care manufacturer based in Salt Lake City. “It’s wide open in this industry. If you’re aggressive and you have a product people want, you can definitely succeed.”

Though some first-timers found space on the main floor, many set up in Hall E, a more affordable option for smaller companies. Attendees who didn’t take the escalator down to the booths on the lower level may have missed some of the gems of the show.

“Innovation comes from the bottom up,” said Taylor Peck (right), founder of Taylor’s Tonics, a line of botanically-flavored sodas based in San Francisco. “Consolidation is of no consequence because there is perpetual potential for new companies.”

With that kind of attitude, it's no wonder that the number of exhibitors keeps growing.

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